Amid the uproar over policing and racism in America, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul hung a large banner on Saturday that said "Black Lives Matter" on the front of the mission. Two days later, it has taken it down.
The embassy tweeted a photo of the banner on Saturday, along with this message in both English and Korean: "The U.S. Embassy stands in solidarity with fellow Americans grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change. Our #BlackLivesMatter banner shows our support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality as we strive to be a more inclusive & just society."
The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris retweeted the photo, along with these words: "I believe in what President JFK said on June 10, 1963 at American University: 'If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.' USA is a free & diverse nation...from that diversity we gain our strength."
The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to an NPR query about why the banner was suddenly removed.
According to CNN, the embassy received the removal request from the part of the State Department that's home to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's offices. The request "cited as its reason the fact that Black Lives Matter is a non-profit organization and that the US government does not encourage contributions to the group or promote any specific organization," per CNN's source.
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Embassy spokesman William Coleman told Reuters that the ambassador's intent was not to encourage donations to any specific organization.
"To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organizations, he directed that the banner be removed," Coleman told the news service, adding "this in no way lessens the principles and ideals expressed by raising the banner."
On June 4, Ambassador Harris posted a photo of protesters in front of the embassy who were holding signs that read: "US Imperialism Means 'I Can't Breathe!' "
Harris said he disagreed with the protesters, but respected their right to peacefully protest. At the same time, he posted a longer statement in support of peaceful protests against racism, bigotry and hatred.
"I hurt to see our Nation going through such difficult times," he wrote. "As an Asian American who was reared in the segregated South of the 1960s, I never thought I would see this happening again, especially in the 21st century. But I believe in America and her people. I know what makes our country strong. I believe that diversity is a strength, not a weakness."
Before his appointment to ambassador, Harris commanded the U.S. Pacific Command from 2015 to 2018. Harris is the first Asian-American to hold four-star rank in the U.S. Navy and the first to head the U.S. Pacific Command. His father served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Korea and Japan after World War II. His mother was Japanese.
Visible in the photo of the Seoul protest is a rainbow flag for LGBTQ pride hanging from the embassy, similar to the manner the Black Lives Matter sign was displayed. The embassy told CNN that the pride flag has also been taken down.
Last year, diplomats at many U.S. embassies said that their requests to fly rainbow flags were denied. The Obama administration policy allowed embassies to fly rainbow flags so long as they were smaller than the American flag and flew beneath them, The Washington Post reported.
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